Philly's Teller talks (really)

Penn Jillette and Philly's own Teller are the host/judges of a reality contest show involving the tricks behind magic.
Penn Jillette and Philly's own Teller are the host/judges of a reality contest show involving the tricks behind magic.
Posted: July 31, 2014

* PENN & TELLER: FOOL US. 8 tonight, CW57.

* THE DIVIDE. 9 tonight, WE tv.

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Getting Teller to talk wasn't hard, once I got past the people hurrying him to his next appointment after a brief performance for the Television Critics Association earlier this month.

"She's from my hometown!" the professionally silent half of Penn & Teller told them as we walked and talked about the magician duo's "Penn & Teller: Fool Us," which makes its U.S. debut on the CW tonight.

The show, which originally aired in Britain, offers magicians a shot at a Las Vegas appearance - if they can fool Penn & Teller.

"I have always hated competition shows - artistic competition shows - because I usually think the judges are uninformed and are judging by arbitrary standards," Teller said.

"And everybody who ever watches magic - secretly, whether you admit it or not - you're always trying to figure out how the trick is being done. And I thought it'd be nice to have a nice, frank television show in which you got to watch great magicians perform, but that the only way they were being judged is whether they fooled a couple of experts. And in this case, the experts are Penn and me."

The Central High grad (Class of '65), who was born Raymond Teller, grew up "in the shadow of Hahnemann Hospital" on a block of Summer Street that, perhaps fittingly, disappeared - OK, was demolished - during construction of the Vine Street Expressway.

In 2000, he published a book about his artist parents, Joe and Irene, titled When I'm Dead All This Will Be Yours.

It's been a while since he's visited Philadelphia, Teller said, but "I formerly came back fairly frequently because my parents were living there and I would come in and do the shopping for them. You know, because they were in their 90s. But then they moved out to Vegas for the last two years of their lives, and so I could see them every single day."

Spoiler alert: Not everyone in tonight's premiere is going to fool the judges, but that doesn't mean that viewers will walk away knowing any deep secrets.

"We tell the person on stage enough to let them understand that we either know how it was done or we don't know how it was done," Teller said. "We do take you a bit behind the curtain."

A vote for 'The Divide'

Maybe AMC should have been less generous with "The Divide."

Because four episodes in, the series that AMC shipped to sister net WE tv is already better than anything it's kept for itself lately.

Set in Philadelphia but filmed in Toronto, the show's moved beyond its pilot - which involved a last-ditch effort by Innocence Initiative worker Christine Rosa (Marin Ireland) to save a condemned prisoner - to a broader, more nuanced look at the politics of race and reasonable doubt.

It's not the second coming of "The Wire," but it doesn't hurt that "Wire" veterans Clarke Peters and Reg E. Cathey are there.

Or that D.A. Adam Page (Damon Gupton) and his corporate lawyer wife, Billie (Nia Long), are the kind of African-American power couple we don't often see on TV.

Still, the real divide here isn't between black and white so much as between what we can prove and what we may need to believe.


Email: graye@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5950

On Twitter: @elgray

Blog: ph.ly/EllenGray

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